New York

Carlyle Reedy

Franklin Furnace

A paper screen faces the audience, about 12 or 15 feet long with a section of reflective Mylar at the far right, and taller than a person standing. On it are a few notes with large-lettered words like “Waitress” or “Laundry.” Along the screen a whole lot of things are piled up; knee-high, hidden under paper, it all looks like a soft bench. Clattering housekeeping noises from a tape continue throughout the performance.

A woman steps out. She calls herself Odette and says she has been doing her yoga behind the screen. She is a homemaker, most likely. Every now and then she gets carried off the track, and says so herself. She is explaining her setup in a befuddled manner. Impossible to see how she will ever make the transition and actually begin the performance. She tries a few phrases in perfunctory French; maybe she is a provincial schoolteacher. She can’t seem to get anything right. She introduces the women who will be evoked in her performance. They are all poets. Each has a section on the screen assigned to her, with the requisite props in front, under the paper shroud. Woman one is the numbers woman. She is into lists. Yes, she says, women are good at making lists. Grocery lists, columns, numbers, clothing lists, menus, birthdays and ages of cousins and relatives. She makes a poem by switching two-digit numbers around; this produces pairs of women, a 71-year-old woman and a 17 year-old girl, etc.

On to Laundry; that’s her name. Her first TV studio was a front-loading washing machine. She fetches things out of the dirty laundry, puts some on her own body until she has tons on, including a string with several raw fish. Carlyle Reedy’s onstage costume changes don’t replace the previous getup, they add to it or make it less: bag-lady theater. Reedy would have been thoroughly at home in Claes Oldenburg’s “Store.” Laundry gets very upset reading a rape story in a paper she found in the laundry.

Waitress has an apron on. She reads menu poems and others off paper plates while working with the food; she comments on her job and throws grapes to the audience. She sits down tired and takes off the apron. This leaves the performer in her regular “lecture clothes” (the homemaker/school teacher). She gets undressed to become Tortilla Mary in a slip. There is some play with her utensils and a “body-slapping dance”: hands tapping arms, shoulders and chest. Worn and weary, Tortilla Mary takes a swig from a bottle of bourbon which is then passed around the audience. The slip, Reedy later explained in conversation, “was to suggest a hot climate and get away from the narrator. It’s me taking responsibility for being that woman at that time.”

She stands up and moves to the Mylar section to be Miss Aminta, who could be a successful model or a prostitute or just a poor little thing that would like to get into films or false identities. She is a bunch of illusions, with paper plates for earrings and bubbling with enthusiasm for these transparent plastic mugs she is going to use for a bra—but somehow they don’t seem to attach well. Still in the slip that has now taken on different connotations, hooked on beauty improvements, she begins to fool around with a can of shaving foam. Starting on the face, she gets it all over herself, up and down the arms, over the body and on the slip, the vile perfume wafting into the audience-space. This conveys an immense aggressiveness; she is violating herself or being violated. I admired the courage of the performer. Sump oil would have been just as plausible and not half as awful. The vanity attack invades and completes the void in Miss Aminta that corresponds to the utensils and work in the other women. Miss Aminta, unlike them, is not a subject but an object. She sees herself as one: “All she thinks of is who is watching.” Finally, Reedy takes two steps to be off stage, the audience applauds, then she rushes back past the screen with the “reflections” of the women to resume her yoga.

The “women” are impressions of people in interaction with their reality, and at the same time each of them is Reedy herself or a condensation of several women in herself. The yogin steps out as Odette, who is also called the “painter of the jail,” i.e., the screen. In Reedy’s idiolect, “yoga” is being aware of the transformations that are waiting in materials, and also, her yoga is subject to interference from domestic activities.

This account breaks the flow of the work into separate stages and makes the fleeting evocations sound more like distinct and circumscribed characters. Reedy has a way of making her actions and objects do more than one thing at a time, and because of the fluid density of her work it is hard to say where the transitions occur. There are air roots in many places; maybe they thrive on the off-key tone, on the rattling flakiness. “Be sure to make mistakes,” reads a note on her studio wall. Her things and movements fade in and out of different uses easily; and it is uses she works with, not meanings. The meanings take care of themselves. The performance is not of separate situations, with transitions between them; it is an ongoing transformation, remolding one situation into the material for the next one.

Reedy mixes well with objects. She is clutter, or enters into clutter like one who has always been there. Amid decay she handles herself with intimacy and assurance. She remains totally uncompromised, but this seems to involve no defense, no disdain, no stepping back. She is not afraid. Is that what protects her?


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